Saturday, November 7, 2015

Venice: Strike One (& Two)

St. Mark's Square

 “Venice was a hallucinatory incubus, the most artificial environment in the world: Disneyland for grown-ups."    ~ Jonathon Galassi

Venice, as I repeat ad nauseam, is not my favorite city.  That said, as I've come to find out, I do like the place.  The problem with which I have a problem is the same one that the natives suffer: tourists.  Yes. Yes.  One could say, technically, that I'm a tourist, but I prefer to think that I'm not.  We won't get into that, but suffice to say that i do not push, pull, or stomp on people, nor do I swing stupid selfie sticks all over the place.

That said, I really do like Venice and would love to have been there before the crowds of pushing, pulling, stomping, swinging people invaded it.  I would love the opportunity to walk it without fighting to move five feet forward without fighting some human obstacle.  (I like to dream.)

I took the group to Venice on two days this trip.  On the first day, Sunday, I was starting to feel sick, so I was hoping the day would end well. The train ride over was an experience as it seems that everyone and his brother was heading east from Bologna that morning.  Crowded, the train cars echoed with the noise of loud people and louder kids.  Two boys sitting a few rows behind us were particularly loud, and they kept throwing toys around.  I was not the only adult throwing the stink eye back at the father, but he was oblivious to them.

"My, GOD," I exclaimed, my head about to burst.  "SHUT UP."  Nothing.  "I'm walking back there."  I got up and walked to the carriage door.  The two kids were on the floor next to the door, and they continued throwing their metal cars and trucks at the train window, door, and each other.  Arms crossed, I leaned against the door frame and glared at them.  One of the boys looked at me.  I stink-eyed..  He smiled.  I stink-eyed.  He smiled.  I gave up and plopped back into my seat.  "Help."  I stuck my fingers in my ears and slumped over.  My head thumped. Thumped. Thumped.

Venetian traffic jam
 Luckily for all of us, the train stopped in Padova (Padua), and a good number of people got off there.  Since Padova is a huge destination for Catholics (St. Anthony of Padua), they were probably heading there for Sunday services.  No matter the reason, when the masses departed the train, the loud kids were among them, and our car quickly quieted down.

We arrived in Venice and caught the vaporetto to St. Mark's Square.  Vaporetti are the water buses in Venice. Used mostly by tourists, they transport people from one location to another easily.  They are not the fastest mode of transportation as they're medium-sized boats that can hold 150+ people, many of whom stand.  On tourist-heavy days, the vaporetti are packed.  Packed.  We arrived on a tourist-heavy day.  The 30-minute ride is a blur of people continually pushing onto the vaporetto.

As we passed St. Mark's to get to the vaporetto stop, I noticed that the square was roped off and that it seems as though more people than normal were milling around.  We got off and walked toward the first bridge, half of which was roped off, too.

"I have no idea what's going on," I said.  "Let's go the back way."  I lead the group away from the crowds and through the back streets of Venice.  I won't bore you with all we did, but after lunch, I took them back towards St. Mark's as they had tickets for the Doges Palace.  Because the square was roped off, we could barely fight our way through the crowd.  I looked over and noticed people running within the roped area.  "Holy crap," I sighed.  "There's a marathon or something going on.

Venice Marathon
 "A marathon?" one of the group asked.  "In Venice? What do they do? Run in circles?"

Well, as I found out, Venice does have an annual marathon, and we happened to be there for its 30th year.  The race, which starts in Stra (a small town west of Venice), had 10,000 runners who ran through the countryside and into the city center, passing over 14 bridges before ending just past St. Mark's at Riva Seiti Martiri.

Venice Marathon
After the group entered the Doges Palace, I tried to walk through St. Mark's in search of a place to sit down.  I alternated between shivering and burning, and I just wanted a quiet place.  There are a lot of cafes around St. Mark's, and I thought I might find a place to sit and have a pot of tea while I waited for the group.  That was not the best idea, for a few reasons.  First, the cafes had seating outside.  I figured it was best that I didn't sit outside, but I was getting desperate and just wanted to sit.  I went from cafe to cafe and looked at the menus.  The menus held the second reason it wasn't a good idea to have tea there.

In case you don't know, the cafes around St. Mark's charge an exorbitant amount of money for everything, especially if the orchestras are playing.  For example, a cappuccino can cost 9 euro, and that's before they add a 6 euro cover charge. The few places I looked had tea, and that cost was even worse — 20-to-22 euro for a pot of tea plus cover charge.  I retraced my steps to the backstreets of Venice and started looking for a place where I could have tea away from the crowds. 

Venice Marathon

It took quite some time, but I eventually found a little cafe with indoor seating somewhere along the back streets.  I stumbled in and, without looking at the menu, ordered a pot of black tea.  The waiter brought it and a small sweet quickly.  I got hot.  I took my jacket off. I  got cold.  I put my jacket on. I got hot. Off.  On.  Off. On. I'm sure the waiter thought I was nuts.  More than an hour later, I was ready to meet the group, so I asked for the check.  12 euro.  It was worth it.

By the time we were able to fight our way onto a vaporetto back to the train station, Venice was dark.  We had to stand in a stairwell for most of the 40 minutes, but we made it back with about 10 minutes to get tickets for the next train back to Bologna.  Unfortunately, there were about 100 people crowded around five ticket machines.  I left everyone in line and went to a customer service rep.

"Can you get me four tickets on the next train to Bologna?" I probably seemed a bit frantic. 

"It's 2 euro more," she told me.

"I don't care.  Get me home."  I was frantic.

"Don't forget to validate them...." she was saying as I grabbed them and ran.

We made it on with a few minutes to spare, and we were on our way.  I spent most of it with my head in my hands.

"I hope you don't mind," I said to the group, "but I can't walk back to the apartment tonight.  Let's please take a taxi."  Everyone was on board with that. . . Everyone but the taxi drivers.

Church from the vaporetto
When we arrived back in Bologna, we stopped quickly in the station pharmacy so Kerri and I could pick up a few things.  We headed out to the taxi stand and found about 20 people in line with two taxis available.

"I can't wait," I almost cried.  We started walking back.  They decided to stop at a restaurant on the way, and I went on.  "I can't.  I need to get back." 

I probably walked that 1.5 miles faster that night than any other time in my life in Bologna.  I stumbled through the door of my apartment, took one of the pills the pharmacist gave me, called Michael, and fell asleep.

I was sure there was no way I could go to Venice again the next morning.


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